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The latest from Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts, the Freedom Reads team, and our larger community, both on the inside and the outside.

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Founder’s Take: A Thousand Dreams Coming True

By Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder & CEO of Freedom Reads
Men at the Dorsey Run Correctional Facility in Jessup, Maryland, with Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts, after helping Freedom Reads’ team members open Freedom Libraries there in June 2023.
Men at the Dorsey Run Correctional Facility in Jessup, Maryland, with Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts, after helping Freedom Reads’ team members open Freedom Libraries there in June 2023. (Photo: Gioncarlo Valentine)

Not too long ago, the Freedom Library was but an idea. A dream under development. My entire life had been spent thinking about prison: in poetry, in essays, when I had to explain to my son what it meant to be in prison. But as much as I’d thought about prison, I’d spent little time thinking of what it would have meant to have been able to read Shakespeare before being required to by Professor Sandy Mack years after prison. When asked how I might make the most difference in addressing all the suffering caused by prisons and incarceration, I thought of what saved me: books.

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Reflections on My First Time Back

By Steven Parkhurst, Program Coordinator at Freedom Reads

Tyler Sperrazza, the Chief Production Officer at Freedom Reads, and I pulled our 26-foot Penske moving truck full of Freedom Libraries into the staff parking lot of the Maine Correctional Center, just a couple dozen feet from the sally-port that gave entrance to the prison grounds. We had just driven 240 miles from Hamden, Connecticut, to Windham, Maine, and my heart was pounding.

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Founder’s Take: Why I Return

By Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder & CEO of Freedom Reads
The first ever reading of Reginald Dwayne Betts and Titus Kafar’s Redaction ocurred at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. “I let them be the first to hear some of this new work; they said the work was funky enough.”
The first ever reading of Reginald Dwayne Betts and Titus Kafar’s Redaction ocurred at Great Meadow Correctional Facility. “I let them be the first to hear some of this new work; they said the work was funky enough.”

Twenty-six years ago today, on December 8, 1996, I confessed to carjacking a man. In some ways, everything that I’ve done since then has been moving towards a kind of amends. Sometimes books are the opposite of violence, opening up the possibility for another tomorrow. I started Freedom Reads, not just to place beautiful, handcrafted wooden shelves with five hundred of the best books you can find on prison housing units all across this country, I started it to return to prisons with something more than the violence that first brought me there. 

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On Imprisonment and the Importance of Books

By Dempsey, Fellow at Freedom Reads

A supermoon shining older and colder than superstition cast a wintry light over London while I hurried over cobblestoned streets to the sound of bells ringing in the white-gloved hands of the sidewalk Santa.

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Founder’s Take: What does it mean to bring something beautiful into a prison?

By Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder & CEO of Freedom Reads
Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts, front row in a fedora, with audience members at Otisville Correctional Facility in New York holding copies of Dwayne's poetry collection FELON.
Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts, front row in a fedora, with audience members at Otisville Correctional Facility in New York holding copies of Dwayne's poetry collection FELON.

I tell people: several days after the Freedom Reads team opened three Freedom Libraries at Otisville Correctional Facility in late August, I was still unable to let go of how much of a wonder it was.

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Founder’s Take: We Read To Know We Are Not Alone

By Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder & CEO of Freedom Reads

I dedicated FELON, my last poetry collection, to Christopher Tunstall, Rojai Fentress, Terrell Kelly and other friends of mine who were then still serving time in prison. The book was hardback – and because many prisons disallow hardback books, I’d struggle to get it inside. That problem led me to create an early paperback edition, the Freedom Edition of FELON, only for those on the inside. Then, I transformed the poems into a solo play I could embody and walk inside myself. Why?

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Founder’s Take: A Reminder of What Just Might Be Possible

By Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder & CEO of Freedom Reads
Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts holds a book during his performance.
With the wild belief that a book might provide solace and wings. (Photo: Jonna Algarin Mojica)

I have always felt my freedom begins with a book – both as a tool of liberation and as a means of engendering empathy. I learned this in a cell, where Freedom Reads began – where the notion of transforming lives with books began for me.

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Founder’s Take: Do You Feel Free?

By Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder & CEO of Freedom Reads
Tyler Sperrazza of the Freedom Reads team with Brandon Surtain of MASS Design Group, shelving the collection onto library modules of curving bamboo.
Tyler Sperrazza of the Freedom Reads team with Brandon Surtain of MASS Design Group, shelving the collection onto library modules of curving bamboo.

While riding to MCI-Norfolk the day we placed the library, I read Malcolm X’s take of his time there. Read how books transformed the way he thought of the world. Walking into the prison, I didn’t know what to expect, though I know prisons and all of their complex brutalities.

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Founder’s Take: Names Matter

By Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder & CEO of Freedom Reads

Names matter. In prison, I found myself around a bunch of teenagers who, wanting to be more than whatever crime landed them there, gave themselves the names they hoped to grow into. I took on Shahid, meaning "witness," true to the way the things I'd see would shape me afterward. Then, I came home to reclaim my father's name and try again to make good on whatever his parents imagined it promised him, and what he and my moms had imagined it promised me. 

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Founder’s Take: March Forth

By Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder & CEO of Freedom Reads

I came home from prison on March 4, 2005. March forth: the only date in the calendar that is also a command. This time of year makes me think all the more sharply of my friends still inside, not yet getting to act out that imperative. Freedom Reads will mark the date this year with a (virtual) celebration of our Freedom Library’s curation.

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Founder’s Take: Forever Free

By Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder & CEO of Freedom Reads

Twenty-two years ago, I was a teenager in solitary confinement at the Southampton Correctional Center. One afternoon, I shouted to the men in the hole with me: “Somebody, send me a book!” Moments later, Dudley Randall’s The Black Poets was slid under my cell door. By whom, I never knew. But the book got me through some long days.

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